Heart disease. Cancer. Asthma and lower respiratory disease. Stroke. Unintentional injury. These are the top five causes of early death in the U.S., claiming the lives of almost 900,000 people under the age of 80 each year. Now a new study, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says 20 percent to 40 percent of those deaths could be prevented.
These needless deaths, often following years of poor health, cause immense human suffering and cost the country billions of dollars. The U.S. economy now devotes about $2.8 trillion a year to healthcare, about 18 percent of GDP, and yet the U.S. ranks dead last among 17 developed countries in performance rankings that measure people’s health.
The U.S. is finally making progress in increasing people’s access to health insurance and care. But good disease management is not the same thing as good health. What’s needed is a smart and sustained investment in prevention, a commitment to making our communities places of health, a goal of keeping people from getting sick in the first place. By some estimates, environmental and behavioral factors account for as much as 70 percent of health outcomes. A truly effective health system will help create community conditions that support health and safety while also providing quality, coordinated medical services.
We don’t have all the answers about how to get there but we do know a lot. When people are dying and suffering unnecessarily, we must not continue with the same approaches.
We know that the conditions that exist in a community have a direct impact on the lives and wellbeing of the people who live there. We know that if it’s easier and more affordable for people to buy fresh vegetables and healthy food, they’re more likely to do it.
We know that if a community has safe, comfortable places to walk and bike, people will take advantage of it and join their friends and neighbors. We know that reducing people’s exposure to polluted air, poor housing, violent environments and stress can help them avoid a raft of chronic conditions and help those who need healing.
Efforts to improve community conditions will benefit all community members, including those who are already suffering from chronic disease. Eating healthy food and taking part in physical activity helps all people stay healthy, and it’s especially important for patients with diabetes or heart disease. Investing in prevention is good for everyone. 17th place just doesn’t cut it anymore.